I usually went to Annie’s Huckster Shop with a companion, who always left the door open, deliberately.
‘Were ye reared in a field, or what?’ she would cry. ‘If the mason left a hole there, the carpenter plugged it!’
‘There was no door on the house I was in last, Annie,’ he would say.
We stood. The silence fell. Someone leaned from the table and murmured, ‘What’s it doin’ outside?’
‘Black down dark.. black as yer boot..’
‘Tryin’ hard to rain all day. Ah well.. it’s the time of year for it.’
Someone else on the settlebed was usually half-bent towards the firelight trying to read the local paper. When you didn’t sit, she would say,
‘Find a seat for yourself.’
‘Sure I’m bigger standin’, Annie – like a cat sittin’.’
‘If your hurry’s that big, what took you here..?’
If we were in a hurry, we told her. Instantly there was a stir like a breeze among the thicket of shadows. Some lad on the hob was always first with his litany:
‘An’ I want a loaf, two baps, black an’ brown blackenin’ an’ tobacco for me Da – an’ me Ma’ll pay you the morra comin’ from second Mass, Annie’.
Coins were chirruping in calloused hands held close to bent heads. Fingers probed and accounted.
‘An ounce for me when you’re at it, Annie..’
‘A gallon of oil when you get the time, Annie..’
‘Oh, and a quart for us too, Annie – I forgot.’
It was the lad on the hob. Someone always forgot.
‘Any matches, Annie – Oh, an’ the paper..’
It was self-serve in Annie’s. Whoever was nearest the bread gave out what was asked. Someone filled oil from the drum at the door. Someone got the stick of tobacco and began to cut off ounce plugs.
‘Keep that knife level on the line now, clumper-head!’
From Michael J Murphy’s ‘Mountain Year’, Dolmen, 1964